Lessons from Thorpey beyond the pool

Chris Lamb
Topics LGBTIQ+

In addition to my roles as Head of Human Resources Australia and Group Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Lend Lease, I’m a Board Member at the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) and on the Advisory Committee of Pride in Diversity (PiD).  Clearly diversity and inclusion (D&I) are important to me.

This week, Australia’s most successful ever Olympian Ian Thorpe announced he’s gay. I don’t think that came as a great surprise to anyone as there’s been speculation about his sexual orientation for at least 15 years. In the wake of his announcement though, I was left wondering; should I feel happy that he’s come out, or just sad that I live in a society that made him fear being himself for so long?

I wondered what it’s like to feel you have no choice but to hide who you are?

Also this week, Mark Spitz, the great American swimmer and winner of seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics suggested Thorpey may have been even more successful if he’d come out earlier. How is that so? How is sexual orientation linked to athletic performance?

It’s simple. Just imagine how much mental and emotional energy it takes every day to hide who you are? Even if it reduces athletic performance by only 1% - that’s 1% less training you can do every day, 1% slower that your muscles grow and 1% longer that it takes your body to recover. During a four year Olympic preparation, that 1% could compound to be the difference between missing the team altogether or being an Olympic champion.

Australia’s best employers may not be striving for Olympic gold but the same principles apply. If employees have to hide who they are, their performance is diminished, they are less engaged and the employer suffers as a result. To ensure that all organisations can prosper - every day we should be striving to create workplaces that are inclusive - where people can bring their whole selves to work and where organisations can benefit from the diversity of thought and experiences their talented employees bring. This is the basis of our D&I strategy at Lend Lease and why diversity is one of our three core operating principles.   

Clearly ‘coming out’ has lifted a weight off Ian Thorpe’s shoulders. The innuendo and speculation ends, and he can get on with whatever his next contribution to society is. In short, he can enjoy the most basic freedom in life that we all deserve. He can stop hiding, stop pretending, and be himself.

This is the simple greatness that we should all aspire to.

Chris Lamb
DCA Board Member

Did you know…

  • Hiding who you are at work isn’t restricted to LGBTI people. A recent U.S. study found that many different people were simply exhausted by having to hide some element of themselves.
  • U.S. research has identified a range of negative effects for LGBTI employees and their organisations of not feeling comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation at work.
  • DCA’s Working for the Future research found 16% of gay men and lesbians said they had been discriminated against at work on the basis of their sexual orientation which is a high figure compared total respondents who felt they had been discriminated against:
  • To read more about what Lend Lease and Australia’s other leading diversity employers are doing to support LGBTI inclusion see Pride in Diversity’s member profile section at http://www.prideindiversity.com.au/member-profiles/.

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